BELMONT, the Bronx — Well into Monday evening, NYPD crime scene investigators remained at the scene of a two-alarm fire that broke out around 1:35 A.M. The blaze left two people dead, and injured nine, two of them critically. FDNY fire inspectors were at work at the Hoffman Street location until late Monday afternoon.
It was the latest in a series deadly New York City residential fires that were made worse by residents leaving open the door to the home where the fire began.
Once the fire on Hoffman Street broke out, its intensity quickly grew.
“The smoke was so bad,” one resident said after reaching the safety of a city bus provided by the Red Cross "It's like dark. It was so thick. [The smoke] grabs you by the throat.”
An elementary school-age girl told PIX11 News that she and her family were able to escape because firefighters helped them get out of a window in their apartment and onto a fire escape.
“They pulled the ladder down,” she said. “And from the basement, we walked out the front door. A lot of people don't have the chance to make it out in fires like that."
Two people -- a man and a teenage boy -- did not make it out alive, according to a representative of the landlord. He said that the smoke started on the first floor, and rose, leaving the two people in the apartment above, on the second floor, dead.
Throughout the day, NYPD detectives, fire investigators and even an FDNY canine unit were on scene, probing the fire.
Meanwhile, a variety of residents had quite similar things to say about the apartment where the flames had broken out.
“They had all sorts of people banging on the door day and night,” resident Paul Madsen, who’d lived on the ground floor of the five-story building, said.
There had been a history of complaints at the rear, first floor apartment, where the fire ignited, according to the landlord. NYPD Crime Scene Unit technicians were still on hand there after sundown Monday.
The residents of the apartment where the fire started made a deadly mistake, according to a senior FDNY official.
“The apartment door was open, fire got out into the hallway and met our members right at the front door,” Assistant Chief Roger Sakowich said on Twitter on Monday. “The stairway was involved in the fire. We had several people trapped on the second floor that were removed by our members."
The Monday double fatal fire came eight weeks after another nearby fire killed 12 people, and also had a death toll made worse by a door left open.
In the Dec. 28 fire on Prospect Avenue, just six blocks away, a boy who’d been playing with burners on his family’s stove set his apartment on fire, according to fire officials. The family got out safely, but the open door gave air to the flames, causing them to intensify. The dozen people killed is the highest death toll from a New York City fire since 9/11.
A series of fatal fires this winter spurred the FDNY to launch an education campaign this week in communities where severe fires have happened, as well as create a public service announcement urging people to close the door at fire scenes.